An interview with Siddiqi Ray: A vision for entrepreneurs

Each business owner discovers the road to entrepreneurship differently. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing my friend, Siddiqi Ray, about her unique path to successful entrepreneurship.

Siddiqi Ray is an internationally acclaimed photographer, speaker, and coach. Prior to stepping out on her own as an entrepreneur, Siddiqi garnered experience in editorial photography, marketing, customer relations, graphic design, and higher education. Although Siddiqi didn’t start her own business immediately after graduating from college, she shares that her mentors planted entrepreneurial seeds in her as early as age 16 when she attended The Arts High School in New York.

“I’ve always been really good at seeking out mentors—either people who were where I wanted to be and doing what I wanted to do, or who had another quality they embodied that I realized I needed,” Siddiqi shares.

The importance of mentors

This led Siddiqi to pursue internships and career-related positions throughout high school and college. Her tenacity helped her land great positions later in life with organizations like The Mayo Clinic and with clients like The Navy SEALS and The Dalai Lama. However, as Siddiqi points out, translating impressive work experience into entrepreneurial success is often a struggle.

One of Siddiqi’s most noted mentors, who pushed her to pursue a career wholeheartedly in photography, was a professor at Tish School of the Arts at New York University (NYU). While Siddiqi entered the school expecting to pursue a career in videography, her professor noticed her true talent—photography—and urged her to take her camera and “go out and experience the world and live your vision.”

So she did.

Siddiqi notes that her professor’s words, care, and mentorship impacted her profoundly.

“That was such an amazing revelation—to have someone care enough about me and to see something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.” Siddiqi mentioned other mentors, friends, and colleagues who have impacted her similarly.

Discovering our own strengths & weaknesses as entrepreneurs

Siddiqi Ray photographer
Siddiqi Ray, internationally acclaimed photographer

“Sometimes we have that knowing, but it’s hidden in plain sight,” she muses.

When starting and growing businesses, many entrepreneurs struggle with inadequacies. For some, it’s their own soft skills or interpersonal skills, and for others, it’s character strengths and weaknesses. Siddiqi admits she wasn’t immune to this struggle; she grappled with one soft skill in particular which was both her greatest quality and the “bane of her existence”—and that was vision.

Siddiqi defines vision as the internal sense of knowing, a gut instinct, and a big picture ability to see where she wants to be and what she wants manifested in her career, business, and finances. Not all entrepreneurs and business owners possess this soft skill—that’s for certain. Many business owners are simply not big picture thinkers. Many, instead, muddle through details and have difficulty with even the simplest questions, like “Where do you see your business in five years?”

Not Siddiqi. She admits that the hard work for her happens in the space between the vision and the now. She shares that she often feels frustrated because she is not truly goal-oriented even though she is vision-oriented; she can get frustrated in the translation.

Siddiqi Ray’s advice to budding entrepreneurs

Siddiqi advises budding entrepreneurs to pursue, find, and believe in their own vision yet hold it loosely.

“Hold it loosely because something better may, and probably will, occur,” she encourages.

Siddiqi notes that it’s important to keep refining your vision as you take action steps toward your vision.

“When I focus my energy and concentration, I focus on the baby steps right in front of me. I don’t worry about spanning the distance. A lot of people I work with are really busy trying to figure out how to fix it and make it work. That’s not where the mojo is. That’s not where the magic is. That’s not where the miracles live. There is vision, and there is what is going to organically happen on the way to our vision,” Siddiqi reflects.

 

If you need help developing your ability to see the big picture, reach out to me for help.

Siddiqi Ray is an internationally acclaimed photographer, speaker, and coach whose work merges intuition, creative vision and pragmatic analysis to help people come into their own power, connect authentically, and build trust through visibility. Siddiqi has worked for over 30 years with entrepreneurs, Forbes 100 listed corporations and billionaires, and spiritual leaders, including The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, several members of the Kennedy Family, and the Navy SEALS.

 

Higher ed: Branding your campus

Recently, my family and I traveled across two states to the Gulf Coast to visit the beach. My daughter is still at that wonderful age of resisting the notion of “potty breaks.” Half an hour after a pit stop, she insisted on stopping again–immediately. We passed two exits, no buildings or signs indicating businesses in sight. As we neared the third exit near Goodman, Mississippi, I encouraged my husband to take the exit. We were in luck. Three miles after exiting, we came across Holmes Community College. We’d hit the jackpot.

I’ve worked at four colleges/universities as a director of career services, academic advisor, and English faculty member. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about institutions of higher education–or any educational institution, for that matter–it’s this: you can form a pretty accurate first impression within five minutes of walking on campus. How? By paying attention to the way people treat you. Let’s extend this to any place of business. How many times have you walked into a restaurant, physician’s office, or boutique and been almost immediately turned off by the lack of warmth? How many times have you walked in for a job interview and felt immediately welcomed and at ease because of the way people treated you in the parking lot, the lobby, and hallways? If this isn’t proof that interpersonal skills–soft skills–make or break an organization’s ability to earn business, I don’t know what is.

32736559_670392302152_1795969454182498304_nCampus brand = people

Immediately after driving onto campus at Holmes Community College, people–faculty, staff, and students–waved, nodded, and verbally greeted us. When we entered the student center to find a restroom, the security guard smiled and asked if we needed help, a student opened the door for me and greeted me, and a woman walked out of an office to ask if we needed assistance all within a matter of 30 seconds. The women who worked in the bookstore were equally as friendly and helpful (and I insisted on purchasing a Holmes Bulldogs t-shirt to represent their excellent soft skills and campus brand).

Losing sight of people

Too often in higher education, we’re obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses. Bigger state-of-the-art buildings. Rad new programming ideas. Next, newer, tech. More students. I get it. It’s a business, right? We’re obsessed with the bottom line. We’re bean counting, as one of my former VP’s used to say as he shook his head sadly. We’re counting beans–and I understand why–but we ought to be careful that we don’t become obsessed with numbers. If we lose sight of people, our ability to attract and retain quality employees and students wains. If we sacrifice the quality of our human resources in order to boost the quantity of our student population, our students will ultimately suffer, too. 

And remember that first impression I was talking about, the one you feel when you walk on campus, the reflection of your campus brand? That’s not something you can fake. Students are smart. If your employees are content thanks to a positive workplace culture, your students (and potential students, their family members, potential donors, and alumni) will sense it. That becomes part of your brand. The opposite is true. If your employees are disgruntled, frustrated, and showing up simply out of obligation (or worse, to continue earning a paycheck), that is your brand.

The solution

The bottom line is this: the soft skills your employees possess translate into the vibe they emanate. That vibe becomes your campus brand.

If you want to improve your campus brand, improve your workplace culture. If you want to improve your culture, take a look at your employees’ soft skills. If you’re a higher education administrator, and you want to improve your employees’ soft skills, start by taking a look at your own. 

Ready and willing to take action to improve your campus brand by seeking soft skills solutions? Reach out to me for help.

 

 

The bravest thing a leader can do

What is the bravest thing any small business owner, leader, or manager can do? What is the boldest question a leader can ask? I propose that it’s this: “What’s my part of the problem?”


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Recently, a lifelong friend and small business owner contacted me for help with executive coaching, particularly in the area of soft skills training. He confessed that he felt overwhelmed by conflicts within his company related to internal communication, lack of collaboration, and systemic problems with corporate culture. What surprised me about our conversation is that he did not rant about his employees. He didn’t whine about their performance or attitudes. He did cite a few specific instances as examples of poor communication and difficulties in the workplace, but he primarily focused on his part of the problems.

Do you know how refreshing it is to offer executive career coaching and soft skills training to companies whose owners accept responsibility for their part of the problem? I think it’s incredibly brave when leaders step up to accept ownership of their  deficiencies. It’s even more powerful when they’re willing to do something to amend the situation by seeking help. “What can I do to make this right? How can I be a better boss?”

Brave questions lead to business solutions

These are the right questions! These are questions leading to solutions. These are questions generating return on investment, greater productivity, retention of excellent employees, improved morale, and better company culture.

This friend and business owner is willing to work on his part of the problem, and he will. But keep in mind that problems in the workplace typically involve multiple people. And when people are involved, things get messy. Each person usually contributes to the problems which exist in the workplace; you can’t pin a problem on one person most of the time. So each person, at some point, may need coaching or training (individually or as a group). For example, if a leader recognizes problems with communication within the company, it’s unlikely that there is only one team member responsible for the breakdown in communication. It takes at least two people to communicate.

Problem-solving is a collaborative process

While it’s great for a leader to take responsibility for his own actions, a leader cannot shoulder full responsibility for every single defect in the workplace, just as he can’t claim full responsibility for every single accomplishment. Teams fail and succeed collaboratively. Should the leader take initiative, step out bravely, and begin the process of coaching himself first? Certainly, if he desires to go that route. But he should not neglect to offer training/coaching to his team members either.

After the leader begins to see the results of coaching himself, it’s a good idea to pull the team in for training. I’ve always told people I manage, teach, coach, and mentor that I won’t expect them to do anything I haven’t done or am not willing to do myself. I think good leaders can operate by the same principle.

Undergoing executive coaching first—and then implementing team training for soft skills—works incredibly well. When the leader address his part of the problem first, seeks a solution, and takes actions to make changes, the team members see results. Why wouldn’t they want to follow the leader after they’ve seen him model problem-solving and solution-finding so well?

Can I help you identify your part of the problems within your team or small business? Contact me to discuss executive career coaching or soft skills training.

Learning from everyone in the workplace

I once joined a professional organization with a diverse membership. We met weekly and discussed industry-related research. Every member sought to grow professionally; most attended at least one yearly conference hosted by the organization so the members grew pretty close. But one of the members drove me nuts, honestly (isn’t that always the case?) She arrived late, laughed hysterically at inappropriate moments, and insisted on interrupting people. When she shared information, it didn’t seem to add value or substance. I whined to my mentor, who was a fellow member. She turned to me and smiled.

“Bethany, you learn something from everyone. You either learn who you want to be or who you don’t want to be. I guess you’re learning who you don’t want to be.”

Ugh. YES. But I didn’t WANT to learn from her! I wanted her to go away. She didn’t.

But I did learn from her. For a few more years, I sat through meetings with the obnoxious woman, who continued to exhibit the same behaviors. Nothing changed about the woman’s behavior. The only thing that changed was my attitude toward her.


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It was a great lesson learned. I probably learned more from her than from many of the solid, professional, appropriate, timely, well-behaved members of the organization who had their ducks in a row. Now don’t get me wrong–I learned plenty from those people. We need excellent role models and mentors in the workplace. Without them, we’d have no idea how to behave appropriately, how to carry ourselves through crises, how to prevent and manage workplace conflicts, how to handle harassment and other touchy situations, and how to seek promotions without steamrolling others along the way. By all means, we need great leaders and strong colleagues who have it all together.

But we need to learn from our colleagues who are barely making it, too. We need those people who have so many personal problems that they’re doing well just to show up to work an hour late, hair disheveled, tear-stained mascara across her cheeks. We need the colleagues in the cubicles next to us who take 10 phone calls per day from their elderly parents with dementia. We need the supervisor who is a micromanager, unable to let go of counting every single bean. We need the one who simply cannot stop telling crude jokes (and gets himself fired as a result–please, dear God).

We need those people because we learn our best and hardest lessons–often gaining soft skills–from the people who are most intolerable, most obnoxious, most needy, and most broken. Do you know how I learned how to communicate competently in difficult situations? By working in difficult situations, time after time, with very difficult people. Want to know how I learned how to prevent conflicts while interacting with volatile people? By working with emotionally disturbed teenagers with criminal backgrounds and a history of abuse.

We often do not choose to learn difficult lessons in difficult moments and situations. But when we find ourselves in tough situations, we have a choice. We can let those situations make us better or bitter, as the saying goes. We can either learn and grow through the situation, or we can whine, complain, and claw our way out as quickly as possible, refusing to accept that there may be anything we could possibly learn from the people and conflicts surrounding us.

I’m not suggesting you should wallow in suffering or willingly expose yourself to demeaning, inappropriate, or dangerous situations at work. If you find yourself in a hostile work situation, fraught with harassment, bullying, or conflict, you ought to immediately take appropriate action (whether that means contacting your human resources director, filing a legal complaint, filing a police report, or searching for a new job). But if you’re just feeling disgruntled or miserable because you don’t like the people you work with, or you find that a few of your colleagues or supervisors rub you the wrong way, or you’re not fully appreciated in the workplace, perhaps there’s something you can learn or gain.

Remember that obnoxious woman I dealt with in the professional organization? She never quit attending organizational meetings. She even attended conferences with us. She never changed. But my attitude toward her evolved. I stopped expecting her to change, and over time, that helped me see her in a softer light.

Most importantly, I learned deep lessons: acceptance, tolerance, patience, and compassion for a woman who had some significant personal struggles.  Hear this: I didn’t have to like her, and I never did. Her struggles didn’t excuse her professional pitfalls. But extending kindness to her didn’t harm either of us. And offering a simple prayer on her behalf didn’t hurt me either.

What are you learning from your most difficult colleagues (or supervisors)? What are they learning from YOU?

If your organization needs a speaker/presenter on workplace communication or other soft skill, reach out to me to discuss scheduling.

Writing your resume for the first time?

pexels-photoThere’s a lot of information available for working professionals who are revising their resumes for the hundredth time. But what about working professionals who have never created a resume? Can someone make it through the world of work without a resume? Absolutely. There are such fortunates. I recently helped a client in his 60s create his very first resume.

Shut the front door, you say. I kid you not–this client’s work history was way more interesting than anything on television at this very moment, but he had never written any of it down. I got to hear about it over coffee. He has managed incredibly swanky establishments across the United States (the stories, the scandal, the excitement…). He’s led large teams of employees to staggering success. CEOs have sought him and begged him and paid him handsomely to relocate.

So why is he creating a resume NOW? He’s reinventing himself (he’s not the only one–why do you think so many retirees are pursuing new career paths or considering gigs and part-time jobs?). He decided he wants to pursue a slightly different career path with a large corporation, and that corporation utilizes an applicant tracking system, requiring all candidates to apply online. Even though he’d already made a name for himself within the organization, he knew he would eventually need to formally apply online. He would have to upload a resume. And he didn’t have one because in the past, he earned jobs strictly based on who he is–his reputation spoke for itself.

So we started from scratch. I listened (that part was easy), took notes, and created a pretty amazing resume for this man. And he landed the job he wanted.

Whether you’re in my client’s boat, and you’ve got years of experience under your belt with no resume to show for it, or you’re in high school or college and hope to avoid this predicament altogether, here are a few tips if you’re writing your first resume.

  • If you haven’t been keeping a running list of your work experience, community involvement, and accomplishments, start keeping one. Use Word or Google Docs or something similar. Save it in more than one place and preferably save it in “the cloud.”

    Record everything. You won’t use everything on each resume you create/send when applying for jobs, but you want all details stored in one place. It will save you so much time when you fill out lengthy job applications or try to recall information about a position you held 10 years ago. Names of employers/supervisors, phone numbers and addresses of employers, copies of job descriptions… yes. All of that.

    And after you have a resume, don’t ever delete it and just revise it, updating as you go. Save every single version. You never know when you’ll want to revert back to a previous version, pull information from an older resume, etc. Same with cover letters.

  • Learn how to write a great resume. Read articles from reputable websites like Forbes, Inc, The Muse, and College Recruiter (there are others, but these are a few). Watch informational videos and webinars. Follow folks like me on social media. Take online courses if you like. If you’re a college student or graduate, reach out to your career services office for assistance. Attend those free resume writing workshops. If you don’t like what you hear or aren’t sure it’s great advice, take it a step further and consider paying someone to help you. You can hire a professional resume writer or career coach, like me, to help you write it. Some resume writers will do all the work for you. I suggest you don’t hire someone like this. What you need is someone who will work WITH YOU to create a fabulous resume.

    It might save you time now to let someone do every single thing for you, but in the long run, you will be back in the same “I don’t know what to do” boat. You need someone to teach you how to write and revise your own work and someone who’s a wordsmith and expert in career development and talent acquisition. It’s okay to work TOGETHER to create your resume. If the professional you hire asks you very few questions and doesn’t really collaborate with you while working on your resume, you can guarantee the finished product will probably not be a great reflection of the real you. And this is a problem. When you start interviewing, your resume will portray you a certain way, and you may or may not match that portrayal. Employers want you to be transparent during the hiring process.

  • Avoid templates. Do you hear me? For the love of your career, do not use a template. Here are all the reasons why. 

This should help you get started. If you need additional help creating or revising your resume, let me know.

 

 

 

branding best light

Branding yourself in your best light

dirty laundry branding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transparency. Isn’t it lovely? Unless we’re talking about bra straps or Scotch tape, not necessarily. No one wants to see (or smell) your dirty laundry. I promise. While transparency certainly has its place in the world of business and marketing, it doesn’t translate well to personal and professional branding.

Why? We’re flawed. We all possess defective character traits. If we care about our colleagues, and we care about creating a positive impression on others, we spend all day long hiding those little flaws. We work to build better character traits. When we’re hungry, angry, lonely, tired, sad, or overwhelmed, we try to suck it up and carry on. We may let it all hang out the minute we walk in the door after work. We heat up a frozen pizza, throw on the sweats, and lean into the sofa with a beer and our dog. We have ourselves a good cry. But do we show it at work? Absolutely not.

Is this healthy? Are we all imposters? What in the world is wrong with us? Why can’t we just be ourselves in the workplace?

First of all, let me be clear. If you’re struggling to get out of bed every morning due to depression or anxiety, seek professional help from a counselor. If you’re so overwhelmed by stress in the workplace, and this topic is causing you neck pain, you may need to consider yoga (or a new career path altogether).

But most of us aren’t struggling with emotions or concerns which are extremely out of balance. We’re just trying to make it through the day. Some days are tougher than others.

branding best light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do you make it through those tough days without losing your cool and burning bridges with people at work–your professional network? How do you brand yourself in your best light on a regular basis? And is branding yourself in your best light really being honest with yourself and others?

Here are a few thoughts on branding yourself in your best light and the notion of transparency in the workplace.

  1. Don’t be transparent at work. Set appropriate boundaries. If you need to learn how to set appropriate boundaries, hire a professional counselor or therapist. Read the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Don’t expect yourself to understand how to have positive, healthy relationships with coworkers if you’ve never had positive, healthy relationships with anyone else in your life. You cannot snap your fingers and gain this ability.
  2. Remember that you choose the brand you portray. A brand is simply your reputation. A reputation is built by choices you make. Choices include words and actions. Our words and actions are preceded by decisions. We make decisions all day long every single day.

    Did you know that decision-making is one of the most sought-after soft skills by employers? It’s true. If you brand yourself as level-headed, positive, kind, and thoughtful, you simultaneously brand yourself as someone capable of making good decisions on a regular basis.

  3. When you choose to showcase yourself in your best light–to bring your good stuff to work and share your struggles with only your closest friends, family members, and paid professional counselors–you are not being dishonest. You are being wise. You are behaving in a way which builds your self-esteem. You’re building dignity and confidence in the workplace. You’re giving yourself space from whatever problems you’re facing outside of work, allowing yourself to focus on work while you’re working. You are growing professionally.

    Here is how to brand yourself in your best light… Be the best version of yourself. Continually grow. Make choices you’re proud of on a daily basis. Develop your strengths and character assets. When you focus on developing your soft skills, strengths, and assets, guess what happens to your weaknesses and defects? They die of neglect.

    Your brand will begin to evolve as you evolve. Your brand is simply a moon. If you are working toward career fulfillment and toward becoming the best version of yourself, you’re going to be reflecting nothing but light–and branding becomes much easier.

 

If you need help developing a written branding statement, a bio, an elevator pitch, or a solid LinkedIn profile, reach out to me for help.

For more thoughts on branding yourself in your best light, check out this 3-minute video.

 

 

 

 

When is it time to change careers?

New year, new you. Out with the old; in with the new. Make a brand new start. Or how about one of my favorites, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream” (C.S. Lewis). When New Year’s rolls around, we often find ourselves contemplating change. What type of change are you considering this year? Buying/selling a home. Relocating. Losing weight. Exercising more often. Traveling. Finding the man of our dreams (and marrying him). Getting pregnant. Adopting a puppy. What about a career change or new job?

model-2614569_1280It’s natural to set goals, make resolutions, and fine-tune our life’s focus in January. Part of that fine tuning for many of us involves initiating a job search. For some, it involves changing careers and embarking an exciting career adventure.

How do you know if you’re really ready to search for a job or change career paths?

Assessing your level of career contentment

When I work with clients who are contemplating a career change, we start by assessing their current level of contentment at work. Are you happy to arrive at work most mornings? Do you hit snooze and feel anxious or depressed about the workplace? How long have you felt dissatisfied with your job? When you attend work events, do you network with others or stay for 10 minutes before escaping? Do you live for the weekend? Are you excited about your current projects and tasks? Do you share your excitement with your friends/family? Or do you complain about the problems at work instead?

Checking our level of contentment is important. We have to evaluate a) how we truly feel about our jobs/careers, and b) why we might feel that way. Sometimes clients find that the problem lies within themselves. Maybe they’re struggling with stress at home, and it’s bleeding over into the workplace. Some of my clients chose a career path for all the wrong reasons to begin with and feel stuck. I’ve even referred clients to counselors if we discover there’s nothing wrong at work, and they just need some overall wellness help.

When you discover your career contentment level is low

I once found myself working in a corporate job, earning more money than I’d ever earned before in my life. The workplace was pretty upbeat, and the dress code was very casual. The expectations were reasonable. My colleagues were friendly and fun. So what was the problem? I just didn’t enjoy my tasks. I chose the job based on earning potential, not fulfillment potential. And I wanted to live closer to my husband (who was my boyfriend at that time).

Once I’d identified that I was dissatisfied at work, I examined whether I could change aspects of the job or my attitude. I worked diligently to find things to be grateful for at work, and that helped the days go by faster. But there wasn’t much I could do to alter other aspects of the job. I couldn’t force myself to love the nature of the job. And I couldn’t relocate the company or work remotely. My husband couldn’t relocate because he owned a business in a different region.

Taking action and making career decisions

What should I do next? Once I’d established that I either had to accept the job and continue doing it or search for a new one, I went through my normal decision-making process.

During my time of reflection, talking to my mentor, and praying about the decision, I saw the solution clearly. I decided to send a message to several friends living near my husband. I asked for their help in finding employment. And I waited and prayed.

Less than 24 hours later, one of my friends, someone I’d known for years, responded and offered me a job. He warned me that the position didn’t pay very well. But he also gave me the option to accept the job temporarily while searching for more gainful employment. I saw this as a clear sign to move forward and make the change. I accepted the position after a phone interview and gave a two-week notice at work. By Christmas, I was on my way to relocating and interviewing for other jobs while working in a temporary job.

The next step

I’m not trying to tell you that if you click your heels and make a wish—or say a prayer—your dream job will fall in your lap. But I am trying to share a career discovery and decision-making process that has worked pretty well for me. Take the right steps and remain action-oriented. But don’t forget to follow your gut at the end of the day. If a big paycheck isn’t satisfying you, that’s okay. Can you make lifestyle adjustments to lower your standard of living? If you used to love serving others as a teacher, but you feel exhausted in every way, it’s okay. What other careers interest you? Do you have transferable skills?

We can talk one-on-one about your current feelings about work. And we can develop a plan of action for the coming year. Reach out to me for help if you’re ready to get to work and find career fulfillment.